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Conestoga College to see significant drop in international student enrolment


Conestoga College is set to see a significant drop in international student enrollment.

On Wednesday, the Ontario government laid out its plan for how international student study permits will be allocated over the next two years.

It comes after the federal government announced earlier this year it would slash the international student permits it would hand out, with Ontario seeing its allotment cut in half.

According to a media release from the provincial government, Ontario will be allocating 96 per cent of permit applications to publically assisted colleges and universities, with the remaining four per cent allocated to language schools, private universities and other institutions.

Applications can’t exceeds the institution’s 2023 permit levels and international permits cannot exceed 55 per cent of the institution’s 2023 first-year domestic enrolment.

There will be some exceptions for students in skilled trades, health human resources, STEM, hospitality, and child-care as the government has identified those areas as “high-demand.”

The provincial release specifically mentions Conestoga College by name, stating, “11 of 24 colleges will keep applications at the 2023 level. Colleges with public-private college partnerships and Conestoga College will see the largest decline.”

CTV News reached out to Conestoga College for comment, but was told no one was available for an interview on Thursday.

However, the college issued a statement online earlier in the day, stating, in part: “Our allocation was set at less than 50 per cent of our current international enrolment. With this news, we will assess the enrolment and operational impacts and communicate more as details become available.”

The new rules will not impact current study permit holders and study permit renewals.

In the most recent annual report, Conestoga College said it had almost 42,000 full-time students in 2022-2023.

The growth of international enrolment at Conestoga College

International student enrolment has been on the rise at the college for several years.

According to provincial data, Conestoga College reported 785 students were studying via a student permit or student visa during the 2012/2013 academic year.

That number jumped to 12,748 during the 2021/2022 school year.

The school has been facing increased criticism in recent years as some international students say they can’t find suitable places to live or work while studying.

‘A sledgehammer when they should be using a scalpel’

At least one local politician is standing up for Conestoga College amid the backlash surrounding the school’s rapid growth.

“I don’t believe Conestoga is a bad actor,” Cambridge MP Bryan May told CTV News in an interview on Thursday afternoon.

“I know there has been a lot of conversations, a lot of press, around using Conestoga as sort of the scapegoat if you will, because they are the largest institution that brings in the most international students. The real issue here is these private colleges. I would say the issues that I’ve seen in our community are a result of maybe Conestoga getting too big too quickly,” he said.

“We’re seeing far too many students coming here for these sort of puppy mill style diploma factories that some of the colleges have partnered with. In the last number of years we’ve seen those partnerships multiply.”

May criticized how the province plans to allocate the international student permits and international student visas.

“I think they’re using a sledgehammer when they should be using a scalpel. The province has made these decisions without really understanding what Conestoga brings to the community.”

He believes it is not colleges like Conestoga that are to blame for the influx of international students but rather private institutions.

“I think the public-private partnership concept definitely needed to be examined. And the number of students that are coming in to just go to these private schools, private colleges. There’s over 400 of those now in Ontario. This is the real source of the volume.”

May also pointed to funding challenges post-secondary institutions have been facing in recent years.

Provincial funding has remained low and tuition for students from Ontario was frozen back in 2019.

That tuition freeze was recently extended until at least 2026-2027.

“I think the challenge that the institutions have right now – it’s a reflection of the fact that their budgets have not been increased by the province for a very long time. And they have found a different way to grow. They found a different way to be able to keep up with the cost of running an institution like a college or university. They realized if we can bring in international students and charge them significantly more for that same program that will allow us to keep pace with the cost of running these institutions. That is absolutely wrong. And I don’t blame the colleges and universities. They’ve done what they had to do.”

According to the latest annual report from Conestoga College, they finished up the 2022/2023 year with a $106.3 million surplus.

“They have a surplus – that is absolutely correct. What I am concerned about is what I’m hearing from the industry that are saying we’re going to see fewer people coming out with the skill sets that we need. My hope is that Conestoga can be nimble enough to be able to still meet the demand while reducing maybe programs that are less necessary or less needed in the community.”

May also recognized the college is not without its controversies and troubles, particularly when it comes to student housing.

“I know that they would agree that they grew too big too fast. Things like housing, things like food plans, having that infrastructure is something that I know they are working on. But that’s going to take time. They’re investing heavily in dorms, they’re going to be investing heavily in that level of infrastructure.” 

Universities also prepare for change

Ontario universities will also be subject to allocation restrictions, although the provincial government said all but Algoma University will keep applications at the 2023 level.

In an email to CTV News, University of Waterloo spokesperson Rebecca Elming said: “We have been responsible supporters of international students with broad wraparound supports including a first-year housing guarantee and we appreciate that the provincial government recognized this with their allocation of permits.”

Elming said the university remains concerned that the visa cap combined with forces like geopolitical tensions have had a detrimental effect on the university’s ability to attract future students.

Wilfrid Laurier also emailed a statement to CTV News saying it is “working diligently to ensure [its] international undergraduate applicants are informed of the process.”

“Laurier’s goal is to grow the number of international students while ensuring international student growth is sustainable, ethical, and aligned with the student experience the university is known for. We provide many supports for international students, including a guaranteed place in Laurier’s residences for first-year undergraduate international students,” it continued, in part. Top Stories

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